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Black Mountain Trail To The Fire Lookout Idyllwild Ca

Black Mountain Trail to the Fire Lookout (Idyllwild, CA)

In This Guide
  • Video & Turn by Turn Black Mountain Trail Directions
  • How to Get to the Black Mountain Trail
  • Everything You Need to Know To Prepare for the Hike
Total Distance (?)8 miles (12.9 km)
Hike Time4-5 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)2,820 feet (860m)
Highest Elevation7,772 feet (2369m)
Fees & PermitsNone
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)San Jacinto Ranger District
Park Phone909-382-2921
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Located just outside of Idyllwild, CA in San Bernardino National Forest, the Black Mountain Trail hike to the fire lookout is a hidden gem. Often overshadowed by hikes like Tahquitz, it offers a healthy mountain climb, great panoramic views, a fire lookout, AND a secret grove of Giant Sequoia trees. You heard that correctly.

Getting to the Trailhead

First off, there are about 50 million “Black Mountain Trails” out there, so make sure you are using the one designated as 2E35 in San Bernardino National Forest before the GPS routes you to South Dakota. Use this trailhead address:
Black Mountain Trail 2E35, 4S57, 2E35, Banning, CA 92220

Black Mountain Trail Directions 2
The trailhead turnoff isn’t obvious, but there are road signs in both directions for the trailhead.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 3
There’s a small dirt road up an incline to the parking area. You can do it in any vehicle if you go slow.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 4
The parking lot is big, but usually fills up as the day goes on. The trailhead is at the far end of the lot. You don’t need any parking pass here according to the SBNF website.

There are no bathrooms or water at the trailhead.

Gear For the Hike

The trail is a legit mountain climb, so you should use proper hiking gear on this hike. Trekking poles help you going up and down the steep slopes. Like most of the high mountains of Southern California, in the summer it can get very hot, and in the winter the trail can be covered with snow. Check the conditions before you go.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.

Lone Peak 5

Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.

Latest Price on Women’s Shoe
REI | Amazon

Latest Price on Men’s Shoe
REI | Amazon

Black Diamond Ergo Poles 2

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.

Latest Price
REI | Amazon

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated October 2021.

My October 2021 Top Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

Black Mountain Trail Maps

Overall the trail is easy to follow, except for the last small stretch before the summit. The trail can get mildly overgrown in places during the spring.

Click Here To View

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.

Gaiagps

How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

Elevation Profile

Black Mountain Trail Elevation
For the most part you’re going up. The middle section feels a little flatter and easier than this elevation profile suggests.

3d Map

Black Mountain Trail 3d Map
The route is an out-and-back hike with a small (optional) loop at the top.

Hike Brief

Black Mountain Trail Directions 31
This hike includes a short visit to Boulder Basin campground. You could overnight here if you’re feeling it. Note that the campground is also accessible by a dirt road.

Black Mountain Trail to the Fire Lookout Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

Black Mountain Trail Directions 1
The trailhead is at the end of the parking lot. You’re at 5140 feet here.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 5
Right from the gun you start climbing. From the start to the summit you’re climbing about 2600 feet.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 6
After some relatively straight sections, the trail starts to incorporate switchbacks.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 7
And after a short while you’ll emerge from the chaparral and start getting some views.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 8
Big trees! But is it a giant sequoia? Look for bright reddish bark, egg-shaped cones, and scale-like needles. And don’t look for giant trees. Since these were planted in 1974, they should be under 50 feet.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 9
The trail levels off and heads through a boulder field. The next mile or so has some ups and downs, but is not as steep as the beginning.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 10
The trail heads through some sections of vegetation. Most of the hike is in the shade.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 12
When you cross the granite slab, stay straight and head downhill. There are tracks to the right to a viewpoint but that’s not the trail.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 13
You’ll start getting views of San Gorgonio to your left.

On some maps you’ll see the Cinco Poses Trail coming in from the right. Don’t look for it. Whatever was there is long overgrown.

Black Mountain Trail Directions 14
Soon you’ll come out at a ridge and see Black Mountain in front of you. The next section is slightly downhill along Hall Canyon.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 15
And after 5-10 minutes of easy level trail, you start going up again. From here on out you’ll be climbing until you get to the top. The trail makes some switchbacks as it goes up Hall Canyon.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 16
After crossing the (usually very dry) Hall Creek, the trail becomes more defined and has some nice long switchbacks.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 17
When you get to the saddle with the trail sign, make the hard right. We’ll be coming out here from the campground on the return.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 18
The trail goes slightly uphill.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 19
At the water tank, go to the right.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 20
This is the toughest part of the trail to follow. There’s definitely a trail, but it can get faint at points. It helps to consult the GPX track when in doubt.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 21
After heading west to the cliff, the trail turns left (east) and heads sharply uphill.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 22
As you enter an area of giant granite boulders, you’ll spy the fire lookout above you.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 23
You emerge on the road. Cross over and up the paved path to the summit.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 24
Enjoy the fire lookout. When the campground is open, you’ll be sharing it with folks who drove up and then did the short hike from there.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 25
Photo opportunity!
Black Mountain Trail Directions 26
The views from Black Mountain are spectacular. You’ll see Saddleback Mountain, Angeles National Forest, and San Gorgonio.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 27
When you’re done at the summit, head back to the dirt road. You’ll see San Jacinto as you head back to the path.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 28
Hike down the sandy road until you reach the Boulder Basin Campground.

You can also just skip the campground and head back the way you came up.

Black Mountain Trail Directions 29
When you reach the campground, make the first hard left turn. Or take a break at the campground.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 30
There are toilets at the campground, but are usually locked if the campground is closed.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 32
Head up the trail from the left turn, through the gate.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 33
The trail goes gently uphill.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 34
And then you emerge at the saddle where you made the turn to the summit earlier. From here just head back down the way you came.

This guide last updated on July 6, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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